On November 2, I watched video of Red Sox left fielder Johnny Gomes placing the World Series trophy on the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It was described by some as a moment symbolizing triumph in the wake of tragedy, the uniting of victims of a horrible crime in celebration. I am sure for many—though not all—it was a moment of healing.
My moment of healing, however, did not come until the next day. As I wrote in this space earlier this year, as a Boston Marathon veteran, the marathon bombings felt deeply personal to me. When I ran Boston in 2011, the marathon course, and the sport of marathon, became a part of me. Since that date, I have felt a need to reclaim the marathon for myself, to prove to myself that the joy of marathoning had not changed and to feel like I was a part of the resilience—and that is how I ended up on the morning of November 3, and the foot of the Verrazano Bridge, determined to run 26.2.
Despite the chilly air and win, I loved running across the Verrazano. The view of the city was amazing, and the energy of the runners even better—we had all worked so hard to get that moment, and finally it was happening. When we pulled into Brooklyn two miles later, I took out my headphones and tried to take it all in. The crowd energy was incredible. I ran up 4th Avenue screaming Boston Strong at every Red Sox hat I saw in the crowd as I powered north.
I was finishing a strong first half of the race as I pulled into Queens. Seeing my family in Queens gave me a great boost, and even better, Natalia jumped in to run with me through what is said to be the hardest part of the marathon, the slow uphill over the Queensboro Bridge. We hit Manhattan and were greeted by incredible crowds. Sixteen miles down. Only 10 more to go.
At about Mile 18, my left foot started to hurt, my quads got tired, and I became daunted by the fact that I still had 8 miles to go. I told myself to just push through to Mile 21, where my family would be waiting. Breathe deep, enjoy the sounds of the marathon, one foot in front of the other. Somehow it worked, and seeing my family motivated me to have another good mile.
Until Mile 23. Fifth Avenue toward Central Park is a gradual uphill, and though I ran this mile in training, it was much harder when I already had 23 miles under my belt. My left knee hurt on hills. My hips hurt. I had a toe that was killing me. I was disappointed in myself for slowing down after my strong start. I wanted to be done.
|The scene on Central Park South.|
Somehow I slogged through, and soon there was the 25 mile marker. So close. I picked the pace back up and was determined to finish strong. Seeing Dave and my Dad on Central Park South motivated me to pick my knees up high and keep running. 800 meters. 400 yards. 200 yards. I can see the finish line. And before I knew it, I was there. I had finished the New York City Marathon in 4:45:14, six minutes faster than my Boston time.
I tore out an Asics ad from the NYC Marathon program two years ago: “First you feel like dying, then you feel reborn.” I could not think of a better way to describe running a marathon. When the medal was put around my neck, I felt like I stepped into a better version of myself. One that was strong, wiser, and capable of overcoming anything.
At home that night, I kept thinking of ways I could have done it better. I should do two 21-mile runs in training to work on pushing through the 18-mile wall. I should work on having negative splits. On the tough mile 23, I was actually disappointed in myself—I was running near the 4:30 pacer for much of the first half, and I could have finished in 4:40 if only I had been able to better push through the walls. I am, however, extremely proud of my finish—picking the pace back up at the end is not something I was able to do as a runner two years ago.
I owe so many thanks to so many people for their love and support throughout my training process, but few shout outs in particular are warranted: to my parents, both for driving down to New York and for years of being my number one fans; to my sister Sara, for trekking through four boroughs to see me, to my Mexican sister from another mister, Natalia, for being the most amazing cheerleader and training pacer, to Sophy, for organizing an amazing post-marathon party, and to Dave, for, well, everything.
But most of all, I owe a thank you to the city of New York, for giving me the opportunity to accomplish both a dream and some emotional healing through running. The race reminded me that marathoning represents the best of the human spirit—people pushing their bodies to achieve new feats, determination and will triumphing over the physical, community uniting to cheer on strangers as they perform these acts. I was truly blown away by the number and energy of the spectators throughout the boroughs. NYC, you are now right there with Boston, tattooed on my feet, and I will forever be grateful for this experience.